The trial of the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni began yesterday, with the prosecution’s first witness taking his stand in the witness box.
The Executive Director of Cocoa Research Institute of Ghana (CRIG), Dr. Franklin Manu Amoah, told an Accra High Court that Dr. Opuni sidestepped all rules governing the testing of new chemicals before applying them on cocoa crops.
He said the accused person openly criticised laid-down procedures for testing chemicals.
According to Dr Amoah, a test for fertilizers takes a minimum of two years and an average of three years of testing it on mature crops before they can be applied.
However, he said Dr. Opuni, upon assumption of office, consistently insisted that the testing period should be reduced, saying the move would make the fertilizers readily available and affordable to farmers.
He said all the scientists at CRIG disagreed with Dr. Opuni over his decision to reduce the testing period, adding that at a point he (Dr Opuni) and the scientists engaged in lengthy discussions on the matter during which they (scientists) insisted on maintaining the usual testing period for fertilizers.
Dr. Opuni and the Managing Director of Agricult Ghana Limited, Seidu Agongo, have been accused of defrauding by false pretenses and causing financial loss to the state.
They are also facing 25 other charges on the purchase and supply of Lithovit Foliar fertilizers.
Led in his evidence-in-chief by Evelyn Keelson, a senior state attorney, Dr. Amoah, the first prosecution witness, told the court that “Dr Opuni summoned me to his office and asked me more about the agro testing which I elaborated. He told me point blank that he was not happy with the long testing period of these agro chemicals.”
“I tried to explain, but he told me it’s not acceptable and that that is the directive which he has asked me to follow,” Dr. Amoah told the court.
He told the court that Dr. Opuni said he gave similar directives at the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) to reduce the testing period for the chemicals.
“He explained that that was the situation he experienced at FDA when he was the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and that the innovation he brought into that system ensured affordability of a wide range of drugs.”
The witness, who gave testimony for close to five hours, told the court that Dr. Opuni said his incentives at the FDA led to the availability and affordability of painkillers like Paracetamol in the system.
“In 2013, a report on a test of Lithovit was brought to me and when I read through the report, I noticed that instead of the minimum of two years and average of three years of testing on mature crops after the seedling stage of six months’ testing, a report was written for the seedling work and the result projected onto the matured cocoa.
He said the report indicated that Lithovit Foliar fertilizer was similar to two existing fertilizers- Lutrismart and Vegimax, explaining that the mode of action and formulation was similar to the afore-mentioned ones, which were worked on for four years.
“This projection, Mr. Afrifah, a scientist at CRIG, explained, was based on an earlier directive given by Dr. Opuni which I am privy to. For generic reasons there was no need to go through the full length of testing.”
Dr Amoah told the court that Agricult Ghana Limited was issued with a certificate on January 22, 2014 which was valid until December 31, 2014.
“After the certificate was issued, Mr. Afrifah told me that Dr. Opuni asked him to tell me to write a letter recommending that sufficient quantity of the Lithovit should be purchased by COCOBOD to pilot its use on 10,000 hectares of cocoa farms. I told Mr. Afrifah that this was outside my mandate and I couldn’t do that,” the witness said.
The mandate, he said, was the sole prerogative of the board of COCOBOD.
No Liquid Lithovit
Dr. Amoah further stated that during his tenure at CRIG, there was no testing of liquid Lithovit fertilizer.
He said the issue of Lithovit fertilizer popped up when he was invited by the transition team that dealt with issues related with COCOBOD.
“That was when I learnt COCOBOD had procured Lithovit liquid fertilizer and as the executive director at the time the fertilizer was tested, I was asked if CRIG had tested any Lithovit liquid fertilizer and I responded ‘no.’ And all that I know was that during my term we tested Lithovit powdery fertilizer on which certificate was issued.”
“In October 2017 during an internal investigations conducted by COCOBOD to which I was invited to the committee, the same issue came up again as to whether CRIG tested Lithovit liquid fertilizer and I responded that CRIG tested Lithovit powdery fertilizer and not liquid fertilizer.
The court, presided over Justice Clemence Honyenugah, adjourned the matter to July 23 for the defence lawyers to cross-examine the witness.